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Is Spray Sunscreen Safe for Babies?

shutterstock_298579124Ah, summer. The days are longer, we don’t have strict morning routines and we’re ready for some fun in the sun. But time in the sun means bringing out the sunscreen and getting a wiggly toddler lubed up is no fun. So what about the spray sunscreens? It sure is a lot easier to spray her as she sprints by.  Is spray sunscreen safe for babies?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been reviewing the safety of spray sunscreens since 2011.   There are two major concerns under review: 1) whether inhaling sunscreen chemicals is dangerous and 2) whether they provide adequate protection from the sun. Let’s dive into these topics a bit deeper.

In 2014 Consumer Reports made an official recommendation that spray sunscreens should not be used on children. This recommendation was due in part to the FDA not issuing conclusive safety recommendations on spray sunscreens, despite their investigation. The FDA is still examining whether the chemicals post a chronic irritation risk (issues with the lungs) or carcinogenic risk (potential to cause cancer) when they are inhaled. While mineral-based ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the preferred ingredients in some of the safest sunscreens for babies, there is data to suggest that titanium dioxide could possibly be carcinogenic when inhaled as nanoparticles. Nanoparticles simply mean that the substance is broken down into particles that are so small they can be absorbed through the skin. Aerosolized nanoparticles (the kind that are sprayed) are worrisome because they can physically deposit in the lungs and either stay there or pass through the bloodstream to affect other organs of the body.

baby sunscreen
Baby Pibu Baby Sunscreen SPF 30+ is a chemical free, broad-spectrum formula that goes on easily and can be used all day.

While sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are typically the safest sunscreens for babies – both of these ingredients physically block the sun’s rays – look for products with micronized particles rather than nanoparticles. Micronized particles are larger and cannot pass through the skin’s surface. You know that your sunscreen has micronized particles when it leaves a white sheen on top of the skin. (Yes, that’s a good thing!)   If you absolutely must use a spray sunscreen, spray it on your hands and then rub it into your child’s skin. This avoids any possible problems with inhalation. And be extra careful to avoid the eyes and mouth.

Another safety concern with aerosol spray sunscreens is the issue of being around fire and a resulting burn. Since many of these spray sunscreens have alcohol in them, there have been reports of individuals getting burned immediately after applying spray sunscreen and being too close to the flames of a campfire or grill.

The third concern with regard to aerosol spray sunscreens is whether they offer enough protection against the sun’s harmful rays. In other words, are we spraying on an even coat and enough sunscreen for it to work? Baby Pibu recommends using a rub-on sunscreen to avoid this issue altogether – at least for the first coat. A best practice is to put sunscreen on your child’s naked body before she even gets on her swimsuit. That way there are no missed areas.

Here are a couple of other sunscreen tips:

  • Look for a sunscreen that is labeled Broad Spectrum, which means the product offers UVA coverage, and SPF 30+, which means the product offers appropriate UVB coverage.
  • Do not use any sunscreens on babies less than 6 months old. Avoid direct and long sun exposure for young babies.
  • As a rule of thumb, it takes about 1 oz. of sunscreen to cover an adult (enough to fill a shot glass) so use approximately ½ oz. on kids.
  • Slather and re-slather! Be sure to reapply sunscreen all over every 1 ½ – 2 hours. This is often the most common reason people get a sunburn.

If you can avoid aerosol spray sunscreen, do it.   Use a good rub-on formula with both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide with micronized particles, broad-spectrum coverage and an SPF of 30 or more. You’ll know that you are using the best natural sunscreen for babies and can put your mind at ease. Now, forget about sunscreen and enjoy some outside time with your little one.

For more information on sun protection, check out these resources:

Sun Protection Rx

Why You Want Your Sunscreen to Look White

How to Know If You’re Using the Safest Baby Sunscreen

Answers to the Top 5 Sunscreen Questions

Skin Cancer Foundation





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